In Defense of the Disney Princess

Problem solver, creative thinker, independent—aren’t these the qualities of a leader?
Problem solver, creative thinker, independent—aren’t these the qualities of a leader? Photo by Lily-Hayes Kaufman.

After banning Disney from her home, a mother discovers that playing princess might teach her daughter leadership skills after all.

In January of 2017, I fed my infant daughter, Hazel, and watched the Women’s March pass under our window in New York City. I should have been inspired, but I felt newly vulnerable.

Hand-made signs warned of obstacles my daughter would face like glass ceilings, lower pay and the confidence gap. How could I raise a young woman to become a leader in this troubled environment?

Desperate for answers, I poured over parenting blogs looking for solutions. Bossy was out, but being assertive was in. People-pleasing was out, but there were right ways to do things. My head spun at the conflicting theories.

There was one clear obstacle, which academics, sociologists and parents agreed would prevent my daughter from becoming an empowered woman.

The ultimate villain was the Disney Princess.

 
The only thing worse than a princess was Barbie with her long legs, perky boobs and penchant for fashion. I had none of these, and if genetics worked properly, neither would my daughter.
 

Revisiting some of my favorite characters from childhood, I agreed, Disney women were materialistic, jealous and obsessed with their looks. I bought right into the anti-Disney manifesto and banished princesses from our home.

When Hazel was 18 months, I ordered a pack of Pull-Ups online. Opening the box, I was annoyed to discover that half were branded with “Belle” and the other half with “Cinderella.”

Hazel was beside herself with joy.

Suddenly the Evil Stepmother, I felt threatened. I locked Cinderella, the diaper, in the closet to keep her away from my daughter.

I liked to think of myself as an open-minded mom who didn’t judge. But secretly, I clocked every child who zoomed by on a Sleeping Beauty scooter or huddled under a Tangled umbrella as someone I didn’t want my daughter to be.

I patted myself on the back when Hazel announced that she would be “A Piece of Cheese” for Halloween. Princess wasn’t even on her radar. Yet.

On her second birthday, Hazel unwrapped a present from a friend. Out of the wrappings came a pink princess dress-up gown. Her little blue eyes widened, her face lit up.

I rolled my eyes. Didn’t this gift-giver know better? Princesses are OUT! Hazel stroked the shiny polyester fabric. I vowed to get rid of the dress as soon as she went to sleep.

I should have learned from the Disney storylines that fate can’t be tricked. Like Sleeping Beauty’s parents destroying all the spinning wheels in the land, I tried to rid our house of princesses. But it was a fool’s errand.

I walked into Hazel’s room one afternoon. She sat on the floor in front of a tablecloth set for high tea. She had laid a Pull-Up out at each place setting.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m pouring tea for Belle and Cinderella.”

What had I done? In my quest to keep Disney out of Hazel’s life, I had created a monster! My Disney-deprived daughter was so desperate for princesses that she was playing with her diapers.

For a moment I wanted to let my guard down. Could playing with the actual dolls be any worse?

The next weekend, Hazel and I went to the playground. Hazel froze, mid-action at the top of the slide and ran over to a little girl who clutched a Barbie dressed like a ballerina.

I rolled my eyes. The only thing worse than a princess was Barbie with her long legs, perky boobs and penchant for fashion. I had none of these, and if genetics worked properly, neither would my daughter.

“Who’s that?” Hazel asked the little girl, reaching for the doll.

“My ballerina.”

Hazel nodded silently, the wheels in her head spinning. She went into a trance-like state processing the new concept of a ballerina.

 
Substituting diapers for dolls, my daughter had come up with a solution. Developing characters and storylines, she was thinking creatively.
 

As a little girl, I passionately wanted to be a ballerina when I grew up. I daydreamed incessantly about dancing on the stage at Lincoln Center. But instead of pursuing ballet, I ended up working in the male-dominated financial market.

In my quest to figure out the impact of ballerina dolls and Disney princesses, I surveyed my friends about what each had aspired to be when they were little. According to our 5-year old selves, we were destined to be astronauts, librarians and mermaids.

But not one of us had followed through on our childhood career fantasies. So, what was the harm in letting my daughter daydream about being a princess?

I thought about my own career path. I had pushed my natural interests aside in order to fit into a male definition of success on Wall Street. But how could I ever be my best if I wasn’t doing what I truly loved?

By discouraging my daughter from fantasizing about princesses, I worried I was reinforcing the same damning trend. Perhaps I needed to let my daughter flourish by giving her the freedom to be the Disney princess-loving toddler she was.

When I allowed myself to accept Hazel’s love of princesses, I was able to see that there was something admirable in her diaper tea party.

Substituting diapers for dolls, my daughter had come up with a solution. Developing characters and storylines, she was thinking creatively. Entertaining herself, she was developing inner resources.

Problem solver, creative thinker, independent—aren’t these the qualities of a leader?

For Hazel’s third birthday, I broke down and bought her an Elsa doll from the movie, “Frozen.” If strong-willed (read: impossibly stubborn) is an early sign of becoming a confident, independent-minded woman, I have no doubt Hazel is on the right path. Despite, or maybe because of, her love of princesses.